WASHINGTON, D.C. — The recently released forecast by the FAA for 2014 to 2034 is generally upbeat for aviation, but when digging into the big report it had a picture not so rosy for much of general aviation. This should send an alert to GA’s alphabet groups and those in the industry to rev up their programs.
FAA officials started cautiously: “The long term outlook for general aviation is favorable, even though the slow growth of the U.S. economy, contributed by uncertainties caused by a debt ceiling crisis, sequestration, government shutdown, and the European recession, have affected near-term growth.”
Growth over the long term is seen primarily in business flying. According to the report, that means turbo-jet, turboprop, and turbine rotorcraft.
Between 2010 and 2012 — the latest statistics that fuel the report — the number of active general aviation aircraft went down by 6.4%, from 223,370 to 209,034. These numbers are from active aircraft, not total, FAA officials point out.
Over the next 21 years, the FAA says the active fleet will increase at an annual rate of 0.5%. If true, in 2034 the general aviation fleet will be 225,700, only 2,330 more aircraft than four years ago.
The number of piston-powered aircraft — including rotorcraft — is projected to decrease at an average annual rate of 0.3% from the 2013 total of 141,325 to 131,615 by 2034. The decline is both in single and multi-engine fixed-wing aircraft. The smaller category of piston-powered rotorcraft is seen as growing at 1.7% a year.
Single-engine fixed wing piston-engine might show a loss annually at a rate of 0.4%, with multi-engine making a dropoff of 0.5%.
Starting in 2005, a new category of aircraft, which were previously not included in the FAA’s registry, was created: Light-Sport Aircraft. Until 2012 this category was reported in FAA statistics as a separate category. At the end of 2012, a total of 2,001 active LSAs were estimated in this category. The forecast says this category will grow to 4,880 by 2034. Agricultural aircraft —crop dusters — have seen rapid growth despite complaints by some that spraying crops is bad for the environment.
With business flying increasing, the number of general aviation hours flown is projected to go up by 1.4% yearly.
The number of general aviation pilots (excluding air transportation pilots) is projected to increase by 35,000 over the forecast period. That’s an increase of 0.4% yearly. The number of commercial transport pilots also is expected to increase. That’s because of the recent change that requires co-pilots to have ATP ratings rather than commercial licenses.
The number of active general aviation pilots is projected to be 484,425 in 2034.
The number of commercial pilots also is expected to increase, going up from 108,206 in 2013 to 122,000 in 2034.
All of these statistics show one point: The number of people using a general aviation aircraft for something other than business is small and getting smaller. The number of GA pilots projected for 2034 is woefully small. In the early 1960s, four manufacturers — Beech, Cessna, Piper, and Aero Commander — were selling more than 1,000 aircraft a month. Last year, more companies than that sold far fewer single-engines aircraft in the entire year — just 933.
What caused this serious drop? Many things. GA has always been cyclical. After each boom there has been a bust. After World War II when so many men became pilots, there was a boom, followed by a decline. The most recent drop-off in pilots and aircraft came when manufacturers discovered they could be sued for damages over even little things.
Perhaps learning the story of Mr. Piper would be helpful. He had no aviation experience when he started. His non-aviation business partner made a small investment in the Taylor Aircraft Co. To protect that investment, Mr. Piper began taking a look at the company. Taylor and he were constantly at odds. Taylor thought big was better, Piper believed inexpensive was best — even the compass was an extra. Mr. Piper made and sold more than 20,000 of the original J-3s.
So what do you think: When FAA does its forecast next year, which way will general aviation be going?